Pub: Square Enix
Dev: Eidos Montreal
www: Official Site
Deus Ex: Human Revolution Reviewed
How do you follow up a seminal classic like Deus Ex? The original, now over ten years old, is still a remarkable game today. Ion Storm’s sequel in 2004, Invisible War, may well have been divisive among fans and critics, but all were unanimous in their opinion that it was not a worthy successor to what is now acknowledged as one of the touchstones in gaming development. So, how do you follow that up? Well, according to Eidos Montreal, you make a prequel.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in the near future: the year 2027, and tells the story of Adam Jensen, a former SWAT operative in Detroit now working as head of security for Sarif Industries, one of the world’s leading companies in Human Augmentation – the replacement of human limbs and organs with biomechanical equivalents. These augmentations can be anything from replacement arms and legs, allowing for superhuman strength and athleticism, to more internal workings like lungs and cerebral implants, granting invulnerability to poisonous gasses and the ability to gain the upper hand in social encounters respectively.
When Jensen’s co-worker and ex-girlfriend, Dr Megan Reed, is about to make an announcement regarding a serious breakthrough in augmentation technology, Sarif Industries is attacked. Dr Reed’s lab is destroyed in the blaze along with most of her research, and Jensen’s race to save his former love is in vain, leaving him perilously close to death. Six months and several operations later, the now heavily augmented Adam Jensen is called back early from his recovery to intervene in an attack on a Sarif Industries factory by an anti-augmentation group. However, this is just the beginning of Jensen’s long journey of discovery, not only into what exactly happened six months ago, but into the future of human evolution itself.
Upon seeing the pre-rendered introduction sequence, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in for a sub-standard experience; the game’s CGI sequences are a throwback to console games of old, and it’s a shame these cut-scenes couldn’t be done using the game’s engine. However, once the game does put you in Jensen’s shoes, Human Revolution’s beauty shines through. Using a modified version of Crystal Dynamic’s Crystal Engine, the game looks absolutely nothing like the torrent of games that have been hastily churned out using Epic’s ubiquitous Unreal Engine. And it looks all the better for it.
Clean and stylish art-design, heavily inspired by the Metal Gear Solid games, married to exceptional use of lighting unseen since the older Splinter Cell games, make for some strikingly beautiful environments. Detroit’s streets in 2027 are dark and misty, threatening danger around every corner, with the streetlights conversely lending a somewhat soothing amber glow to proceedings. When you get to China, your jaw may just drop; honestly it’s like you’ve walked onto the set of Blade Runner, with dazzling neon-lit signs painting China’s narrow streets
Many of the character models don’t look that great, in fact they bear more than a passing resemblance to those in the aforementioned Splinter Cell games. However, the main characters are well detailed, and Jensen himself looks fantastic despite being a blatant clone of Keanu Reeves. The framerate dips here and there, but it’s never game-breaking. The animation is somewhat stiff, and the use of facial expression and lip-sync is almost non existent. But you can easily forgive these visual foibles when, as a whole, the game looks absolutely stunning.
Of course, all that exceptional style would be meaningless if the gameplay and storytelling lacked substance; thankfully, Human Revolution delivers on both counts. This game is all about choice. Not just in its storytelling, but in how you approach playing the game. There are almost always mutliple ways you can accomplish Jensen’s missions. You could tool up with the best weaponry, and approach the game as a cover based shooter; the cover mechanic is very effective, and the gunplay is very satisfying. On the flipside, you can avoid using most weaponry altogether, and stealth your way through the game, using close-quarters takedowns and stun or tranquiliser darts to silently remove pesky guards in your way.
That being said, Human Revolution does tend to favour the stealth option; even on the easiest difficulty, if you get swamped by hostile enemies, you are likely to get killed. Mixing and matching the play-styles does work really well however; in games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, you can sometimes feel you are playing it ‘wrong’ if you so much as set off an alarm. In Human Revolution you never get that feeling; if things go bad, you deal with the situation as best you can, then move on, and the game does not punish you for it.
Human Revolution is, however, not without its issues. The double takedown ability works great so long as two enemies are standing close to each other; but if one of them is sitting down, the option to use a double takedown is rather daftly not available. The enemy AI is somewhat questionable. At times they have the eyes of a hawk; other times they fail to see something right in front of them. For example, if you use takedown on an enemy that is stood next to one that is sat down, you’d think the guard sat down would react instantly and violently to you breaking his mates arm and rendering him unconscious, right? Nope, he gets up and says “Did I see something?” It kind of breaks the immersion.
There are some bugs and glitches too, some of which will force you to go back to an earlier save, at times costing you a lot of playtime. So use multiple saves, and save often. The biggest let-down however, comes from the boss fights. They’re absolutely appalling, and oh so very out of place when compared with the rest of the game. Thankfully, there are only three or four throughout what turns out to be a very big game, but the sudden difficulty spike can prove frustrating and annoying, and mar what is otherwise a supreme gaming experience.
Adding a serious amount of depth to the gameplay are the many options for augmentations that you can open up and upgrade as you progress through the game. If you’re looking to go the stealth route, then upgrading your hacking augmentations is a must, as hacking secured doors can offer alternate routes or provide you with more ammo and weaponry. As you progress, you can also turn gun-turrets and robots against your enemies by hacking security terminals. The hacking mini-game may prove divisive; at first it can be quite confusing, and the tutorial doesn’t really explain things all that well. Once you get used to how it works though, it’s a very fun and satisfying mini-game that never becomes a chore.
Some of the best augmentations however, enhance your combat abilities. From punching through walls to grab an enemy from behind – you’ve seen Robocop, right? – to rendering yourself completely invisible, allowing you to confuse and eliminate your enemies quickly, all the augmentations prove to be extremely useful. This makes choosing what to open up and upgrade an agonising choice early in the game, but Human Revolution is big enough that you need not worry about not being able to use most of them.
From a story-telling point of view, Jensen’s augmentations are put to good use by having a direct link with Sarif Industries, so plotlines can be relayed through conversations via the HUD during gameplay. In addition, many of Human Revolution’s plotlines are fleshed out through e-mails and messages you can read on computer terminals. News stories are available on TV as well as on iPad-like news-readers, and e-books are in too; there is even an achievement for reading all 29 of them.
The game’s conversation system is similar to that of Mass Effect’s, except the options you choose are more literal; which is good and bad. It’s good in that you know almost exactly what Jensen is going to say; but it lacks Mass Effect’s cinematic feel because of it. However, the system is solid and works excellently due to the voice acting being, for the most part, very good. Jensen’s performance again may prove divisive, he sounds like Clint Eastwood with Keanu Reeves' face and line-delivery, but on the whole he is one of the better protagonists, and a worthy ‘predecessor’ to JC Denton from the original game.
While there’s nothing really revelatory about Human Revolution’s story, and some elements are predictable; the story is well written, and it still has one or two twists and turns, with an ending worthy of the name Deus Ex. Your hands will be glued to your control pad as Jensen’s journey takes him from Detroit, to Shanghai, to Montreal, and to other places around the world. Don’t let this game’s few faults put you off, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a wonderful, refreshing, and utterly enthralling experience from start to finish.